I remember clearly the day the final payment from Duncan arrived. We were visiting friends and celebrating because all the joint businesses and family “trusts” intertwined in that financial ball of toxic spaghetti had finally been disentangled. My husband was there too but although he was in high spirits, I warily noted he seemed agitated, flicking his hair too often as though he was building up to something unpleasant.
Bracing myself I listened to yet another breezy reminder of how lucky I was that he was giving me everything even though it was all through no fault of his own. Matching his light tone, I pointed out that he was more than welcome to peruse the financial records that showed the settlement was closer to 60/40 and gently reminded him that he still had a business that he could continue to build up and that I only had a low paid bookkeeping job. Then came that constant reminder of “Duncan”, forever existing in quotation marks to be brought out when all else failed. Recapping jokily on my good fortune that he wasn’t like Duncan who would follow the letter of the law and only pay ten dollars a week in child support, he went on to say how glad he was that we’d agreed on a private arrangement. I laughed it off but inside I wasn’t laughing at all. This wasn’t a joke, it was a threat.
Despite this ever-present cloud, we were working our way reasonably amicably through the separation. By mutual agreement, I had sole custody of the kids and we agreed that he would have them to stay every alternate weekend. When the container of furniture arrived from Australia, the majority was delivered to the two-storied house that the kids and I were renting whilst the remainder his rented place which was literally just around the corner. He even helped me generate some freelance database marketing work for some of his clients in Australia. I was very grateful for this because it enabled me to work from home which meant I could be there when they got home from school and that I wasn’t forking out on expensive after school childcare. To fill the gaps, I picked up some contract work from a freight forwarding company plus I found a couple of part-time book-keeping jobs.
I didn’t mind in the least when our first winter in Christchurch started to bite. After living on the winterless Gold Coast, I was looking forward to experiencing seasons again. My firewood had been delivered and stacked and I was looking forward to steamy casseroles and hearty soups. Warm winter clothes and crisp frosty mornings were a welcome change. One such winter afternoon I had lit the fire and was just about to meet my daughter from school when I received a phone call that sent me spinning into a mindless panic. After thinking that things were jogging along nicely with my ex, he announced that he wasn’t coping and didn’t think he could go on.
We’d had this discussion before and I assumed he was talking about continuing his business. I had previously been able to make him see that this was what he really excelled at and was his true calling. I could say this now with all sincerity, but I wondered if it was appropriate that I act as psychologist-cum-cheerleader when I was the ex-wife and the alleged cause of all his angst in the first place.
This conversation was disturbingly different though, and it was when he started to break down and the line went dead, that I began to panic. I couldn’t go around to his house immediately because I needed to meet my daughter from school and there was no time to organise any alternatives. I met her from school and waited what seemed like an eternity for my son to arrive home from school on his bike. I had no idea what I was going to find once I got to his house, so I bundled the kids into the car and dropped them off at a friend’s house. I left them with a brief explanation and raced round as fast as I could safely drive in my car.
My heart pounded in rhythm as I pounded on the door of his house. How could I possibly forgive myself if he had taken his own life? Awash with guilt, I circumnavigated the house, frantically peering into every window. What if he was on the floor unconscious and I couldn’t see him? Should I try to break in or should I call the police? After a long period of indecision spent weighing up my options, I concluded that I would have to go back to my house, either to use the phone or to get something I could use to smash a window. Instead, I went back to my friend’s house. They sat me down and I explained the events of the past hour and told them exactly what he had said. They both knew my husband well and managed to calm me down, convincing me that he was probably just upset and that he wasn’t the type to carry through with anything drastic. We tried phoning and although there was no response, I left feeling confident that all would be well.
They were of right of course and just a few days later he arrived at my house and announced that he’d met a wonderful woman who had been introduced by a mutual friend. As bizarre as this seemed, given my overwrought suicide rescue mission just days earlier, I was genuinely pleased. It took a few short weeks for his new romance to blossom and a couple of months later culminated in him moving into her home. Now that the pressure was off and I no longer felt responsible for his mental health I could at last focus on the children’s needs, not to mention my own.
By this time, I had managed to gather together about a third of the equity required to buy myself a house. My income however, was erratic and I was unconvinced that the amount of maintenance my ex-husband was paying for the kids was commensurate with his earnings, even though I’d heard through the grapevine that everyone was of the belief that he was paying me a small fortune. I sincerely wished I didn’t have this continual threat hanging over me because it made me hesitant to rock the boat too much over any issues involving the children.
I decided to visit my accountant to find out if this crazy law was still in place and if it could be enforced in our situation. Unfortunately, it was and it could. He looked up the IRD website and said that what he was paying was equivalent to what I’d receive if his income was $40,000 a year and did I think it was possible that he was earning more than that? My answer was a resounding ‘yes’ but my accountant advised against forcing him to put the payments through the IRD. If he was aware that his child support obligations were reduced due to his earnings being generated in Australia and had threatened it, then it was best not to stir up trouble. He could always rearrange his earnings so they fell within, or even below, that forty thousand mark so I could end up being worse off. I reluctantly took his advice and never questioned it again.
To be fair he and his partner did take the kids on holiday fairly regularly, and he was always generous when it came to buying toys, cameras, cell phones, whatever they wanted really, but he was never that generous with his time. And his generosity didn’t extend to the essential food-on-the-table type of things, but I had been pre-warned that this was what he intended doing before I left him.
Since I didn’t have any other option than to accept this arrangement, then I was just going to have to try to find other ways to improve my lot. The database marketing work I had been doing was slowly tapering off, so I turned my attention to what I knew best – freight forwarding. I started working with one of the logistics company’s setting up their new website, doing company newsletters, formatting database marketing material and preparing quotes and tenders. One day I was asked to make a presentation of import air and sea freight rates as a tender document for one of the larger importers. Sifting through the bloated portfolio of rate information, I thought how good it would be just to enter a weight and measurement, put in the exchange rate and get an instant price without this chaotic jumble of impenetrable acronyms, ex works charges in different currencies, pick up rates with differing weight breaks and weight-to-volume ratios.
There was only one slight problem with my cunning plan. I knew that this could probably be done using an Excel spreadsheet but, apart from being able to do the basics of adding and subtracting, I didn’t actually know how to use it. Certainly not well enough to produce anything resembling the spectacular product that only existed inside my head. But with a little bit of help from my son and his sixth form text book, I eventually made my first freight costing calculator. The convoluted calculations going on in the background of my first 2003 version were almost binary in nature, but it worked like a charm! From then on, I continued to make the calculators, constantly improving and adding in more features as I learned more about Excel and its capabilities.
The customers were happy, my ex-husband was happy with his new partner; the kids were happy in their schools and there was always lots of fun and laughter in the house. I was happy too, although I still felt guilty and had an underlying fear of everything.
I had a good circle of friends and had started to return to the world of dating. This was something I’d never really gotten to grips with prior to my marriage and although I was certainly a lot more circumspect, this didn’t necessarily mean I was any more adept at it. My attitude toward letting anyone into my life was cautious and I didn’t meet anyone who particularly spun my wheels anyway. If I had have done, things might have been different but there was always a critical, disapproving voice in the back of my mind, which strangely enough, sounded remarkably like my ex-husband’s. On top of this, I was wary. Although I knew that all men didn’t necessarily behave in the same way as my husband had, the merest suggestion of manipulative tendencies would cause me pick up my skirts and run at full speed in the opposite direction.